Appreciation on This Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. It is a day full of life-giving play and celebration. It is also a great day to practice the art of appreciation.


When my enlistment in the Navy was up, I came home saying I was in the Viet Nam War. As I met and coached veterans who fought in Viet Nam, I started saying I was in the Navy during the Viet Nam Era. Those men and women put their lives on the line for lots of reasons and many did it lots of times. My dad was one of the soldiers who came home from World War II, hundreds of thousands didn’t.  I’ve been honored to be among the many Red Cross volunteers saying, “Thank you,” as soldiers boarded their aircraft to deploy, and to say, “Thank you,” as we welcomed troops home.  Men and women are putting their life on the line every day.


As I reflect on how best to live my life today, I’ve been reminded of the teaching I received from Marshall Rosenberg about the difference between appreciation and praise. At work, at home, and at moments of remembering the sacrifice of others, words of appreciation can be far more life-giving than words of praise.


Words of praise, for instance, “You’re a hero,” actually reflects a judgment the speaker is making about the other person’s existence. It is difficult to think about a judgment like that being in the same class as a judgment like, “You’re a coward,” but they are both cut from the same cloth.


I’m pretty sure that I’m not really gifting anyone by judging them. I’m particularly aware of the challenges associated with judgments in my roles of addict and coach to those addicted to being dependent on the judgments of others. They are powerful, but not too useful.


Appreciation, however, has potential for being useful and powerful. When we speak the language of  appreciation, we communicate three specifics:


  1. The actions that the other person has taken that have contributed to our well-being.
  2. The needs of ours that have been fulfilled through their action.
  3. The pleasurable feelings that have been created by having our needs fulfilled.


To those who went before me, with me, and are serving in the military today, I say:


  1. Your willingness to put yourself in harm’s way saved my life. Your living and in many cases dying for what you believed has encouraged me to define what I live for. Your leaving no one behind has modeled for me the caring I want to extend to others. Your operating in a Chain of Command in which communication in all directions is vital, has taught me about boundaries and systems.
  2. My need to be the change I want to see in the world inspires me so no one else has to lose his or her life in war. My need to add value to people’s lives thrives in the empathy and skills I offer. My need for expressing gratitude for life brightens by your service. My need for connection with you who have served and are serving is fed.
  3. I feel deeply grateful and channel my feelings into acts of generosity. I take the freedom I have as an American for granted much less often, and not at all today. I feel excited about the call to create a great return on my life.


I salute you.